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How to Survive Spending the Holidays Alone

There are so many reasons why people find themselves facing the holidays alone. For some, this is perfectly fine, maybe even ideal. A whole day where nobody expects anything from me? Sweet!

But for others (many others), spending holidays alone comes with a lot of baggage. The holidays can be a stark reminder of everything that is missing in our lives. We’re inundated with imagery of family and loved ones gathered around the table, happy, healthy, together.

For so many people, that picturesque holiday is fiction. The reasons vary. Some people can’t make it home. Others aren’t sure what that word means for them anymore.

Perhaps it’s the pandemic, a breakup, or an inability to afford to travel due to job loss. Whatever the reason, you can get through the holidays alone and start fresh in the new year.

9 Tips for Surviving the Holidays Alone

christmas slippers spending the holiday alone
how to get through the holidays alone

1. Be Honest About Your Feelings

The holidays can be a bittersweet time for so many people. It is okay to admit that. No matter the circumstances under which you find yourself alone (or away from certain loved ones) this year, it is perfectly okay to feel how you feel.

What you don’t want to do is try to hide from your feelings. Pretending to be fine or nonchalant about going it solo when you’re actually struggling is going to exhaust you and, ultimately, make things worse.

You do not need to feign strength if you aren’t feeling strong. This is a gentle nudge to be honest with and kind to yourself. To start, we’re going to figure out how to make the best out of a shit situation and get through the holiday season with our sanity intact.

2. Make a Plan

If you know you’re going to be alone during the holidays, make a plan. How are you going to spend the day?

For most people, it is unhelpful to wake up, say, on Thanksgiving Day with nothing to do and too much time to dwell on the fact that you’d rather eat a homecooked meal with people you care about. So what will you do?

Additionally, how will you mentally prepare yourself for the day? If you have one, schedule a session with your therapist ahead of time to talk through your feelings about being alone. They can provide you with specific strategies for coping.

Reach out to friends or members of your support team who can lend an ear. Then, make a decision about how your day will go.

3. Find Ways to Connect

Like it or not, human beings are innately social creatures. We need connections with other human beings to thrive.

Whether you’re spending the holidays alone due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re estranged from your immediate or extended family, or for any other reason, it is important to seek alternative means of connection.

Organize a friends’ gathering via Zoom. If you live away from family and couldn’t make it home, perhaps there are others in your social orbit in a similar position. Why not join forces and have your own holiday gathering?

It doesn’t even have to be on the actual holiday. You can organize a get-together before your friends head to their respective family gatherings in order to share in the holiday spirit with people you love and trust.

For many people, the holidays are a time to spend with alternative family, the ones we choose. These are the people who lift us up, especially where our biological families have fallen short.

Whereas we can’t control the shortcomings of our given families, we can decide to make the holidays about the people who love us as we are.

woman spending holidays alone with her suitcase at the airport
find ways to connect during holidays alone

4. Know Your Triggers and Avoid Them

The holiday season can be triggering. Before you tackle this one solo, make sure you identify your triggers. What are the things that bring up the most difficult emotions for you? Is it hopping on social media and seeing everyone posting holiday pictures with their family and/or significant others? Maybe it’s watching holiday movies or browsing photos from years past.

Additionally, you may find that downtime is triggering for you. Many people get lost ruminating and start to get consumed by memories, sad feelings, and a whole spectrum of emotions that make the day more difficult.

You know yourself best. Plan ahead. If social media is going to cause problems for you, delete the apps off your phone for the day and decide how you will keep yourself busy. Relatedly, if downtime leads to rumination, actively prepare things you can do to keep your mind occupied.

You don’t deserve to feel sad or isolated. If there is something you can do to stave off those feelings during the holidays, then do them. Don’t set yourself up for an emotional spiral.

5. Reframe the Day

Instead of focusing on whatever your ideal holiday is supposed to be, open yourself up to changing how you see it. Make it a day of rest or self-indulgence. You can take time to care for your mental health. Maybe you decide to use your free time to tackle a project you’ve been putting off.

It is easy to fall down the rabbit hole of all the ways your holiday plans have fizzled into something profoundly lonely and isolating. But what if you decided that it’s just a day off and you can do whatever you want?

Holidays can be really hard. They are often harbingers of memories you’d rather forget. It is no small task to set that aside. This is not to dismiss the emotional toll of spending holidays alone. But it is a reminder that underneath all that baggage, it is just a day like any other. And it will pass.

6. Volunteer

Look for volunteer opportunities to help people in need. Can you sign up to work at a local shelter? Is there a food bank in need of volunteers? Volunteering gives people a sense of purpose and connection, something many people need during the holidays.

Some studies have shown that volunteering leads to increased levels of happiness and connection, including among participants who started with lower levels of well-being. It is a mutually beneficial activity. You get to help people in need and fight the holiday blues at the same time.

7. Create New Traditions

If your holidays are a bit of a blank slate, create your own traditions. Maybe you sign up to do a local Turkey Run or decide to try your hand at baking something festive each year. Your holiday celebration can be whatever you want it to be.

Organize a fun holiday party for your closest friends, even if it’s virtual. You can organize a long-distance Secret Santa where everyone sends their person a random gift in the mail and you all gather for a Zoom party/unboxing.

Start a tradition of sending funny holiday cards or, if you fancy yourself an aspiring artisan, create homemade gifts for your faves.

The point of these traditions is to feed that sense of connection and doing for others, especially those you care about. Now that you’re an adult, it is within your power to define what that looks like.

8. Find Ways to Busy Yourself

If you’d rather just forget the holiday exists at all, channel your energy into tasks you wouldn’t normally have time for. Clean out some closets. Reconfigure your furniture. Clean those nooks and crannies that haven’t seen a mop or broom in a while.

Look for any positive distraction that can help you pass the time and get through the day.

9. Indulge

If slipping into a luxuriously overpriced and snuggly robe while eating ice cream and binge-watching Ted Lasso sounds good to you (because it is), do that! If all your spirit is yearning for is time to laze about and watch an entire series, go right on ahead.

Here’s why. Holding it together takes a lot of effort. If this holiday season has emotionally depleted you, it is okay to be indulgent.

On my first New Year’s Eve sober, I was bombarded by urges to go out and drink. I felt like I was going to jump out of my own skin.

Solution? I ordered a pizza and binge-watched the first season of Jane the Virgin with my husband. It took the edge off and kept my cravings at bay.

I didn’t have any bandwidth for much else. Everything I had was invested in getting through the day sober.

So if the only thing you have strength for is ordering takeout and posting up on the couch. Do that.

woman in robe stairs at christmas tree decoration
Find new traditions during the holidays

What NOT To Do If You Find Yourself Spending The Holidays Alone

Don’t reach out to exes.

Holidays can be an impetus to go fishing. What might seem like an innocuous “Happy X! Hope you are well” message can go south quickly. Do not torture yourself with this kind of roulette. Let’s examine all the potential outcomes of doing this (and we’ve all done it):

  • You don’t get a response and spend the rest of the day reflexively checking your phone for messages.
  • You get a generic, polite response back with no interest in actually engaging with you.
  • S/he tells you some information you aren’t emotionally prepared to handle.
  • They take the bait and you are opeening a big can of emotional worms when you’re feeling vulnerable (what could go wrong?).

Avoid this game at all costs.

Don’t drink/abandon your sobriety.

The holidays are a terrible time to abandon sobriety. They are an equally bad time to day-drink alone as a means of coping with the disappointment of how your holiday season has turned out.

If you’ve been sober while and are feeling particularly burdened and triggered by spending the holidays alone, you need to reach out to your support network. Do this ahead of time and know who you can call on the day of in case you feel like you might relapse.

Alcohol cannot do a thing for you on a day like this.

I know we think it can.

Being drunk when you are alone and emotionally vulnerable is a recipe for disaster. You are either going to make yourself sick, do something regrettable, or put yourself at risk for self-harm or other destructive behavior.

At the very least, you will end up you will end making a regrettable call, text, or social media post that you can’t easily take back.

Don’t wallow.

There is a difference between accepting and facing loneliness head-on and allowing yourself to wallow in it. The desire to succumb to the wave of emotions inside of you is completely human. It is also really bad for your mental health.

Give yourself space to feel your feelings and then actively try to give yourself healthy distractions to get through the worst of it.

Don’t feed the beast. I’ve had solo holidays where I sat around drinking, scrolling social media, analyzing old texts, playing sad music, and oscillating between feeling sorry for myself and berating myself with words I wouldn’t spend on my worst enemy.

And for what?

It only ever made things worse.

Don’t lose perspective.

Cliché as it sounds, it’s always humbling to remember that there are people who are suffering mightily in this world. It doesn’t mean your pain is invalid, but it is a reminder that even in our darkest moments, we can reach for gratitude.

If there’s a roof over your head and food in your home, it’s okay to stop and be thankful. To say, “I’m alone right now and hate everything about that, but I’m safe, I’m warm, and I have enough to eat.”

Maybe you have a loving support system that you are physically separated from. Or perhaps you’ve recently started a job you enjoy. If you catch yourself struggling with sadness or self-doubt, it might be helpful to reflect on what’s good in your life.

If you’re not in the headspace to do that, that’s okay. Find healthy distractions to pull you through until you can.

Final Thoughts

Spending the holidays by yourself is rarely ideal. We’re wired for connection and the holidays are supposed to be the time we nurture those connections. In the absence of that, we can feel lost, isolated, and alone. With the right game plan and support systems in place, you can manage the holidays solo without feeling left out. Remember, even if it’s a rough day, it will end and you can pick up where you left off.

zoom holiday meeting among family members
How to survive the holidays alone

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